Sun | Jan 17, 2021

Uproar in France over proposed limits on filming police

Published:Monday | November 30, 2020 | 3:03 PM
FILE - In this Nov.21, 2020 file photo a demonstrator takes a picture of policemen during a protest against bill on police images, in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron's government is pushing a new security bill that would notably make it illegal to publish images of officers with intent to cause them harm. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

PARIS (AP) — French activists fear that a proposed new security law will deprive them of a potent weapon against abuse — cellphone videos of police activity — threatening their efforts to document possible cases of police brutality, especially in impoverished immigrant neighbourhoods.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is pushing a new security bill that makes it illegal to publish images of police officers with intent to cause them harm, amid other measures. Critics fear the new law could hurt press freedoms and make it more difficult for all citizens to report on police brutality.

“I was lucky enough to have videos that protect me,” said Michel Zecler, a Black music producer who was beaten up recently by several French police officers. Videos first published Thursday by French website Loopsider have been seen by over 14 million viewers, resulting in widespread outrage over police actions.

Two of the officers are in jail while they are investigated while two others, also under investigation, are out on bail.

The draft bill, still being debated in parliament, has prompted protests across the country called by press freedom advocates and civil rights campaigners. Tens of thousands of people marched Saturday in Paris to reject the measure, including families and friends of people killed by police.

“For decades, descendants of post-colonial immigration and residents in populous neighborhoods have denounced police brutality,” Sihame Assbague, an anti-racism activist, told The Associated Press.

Videos by the public have helped to show a wider audience that there is a “systemic problem with French police forces, who are abusing, punching, beating, mutilating, killing,” she said.

Activists say the bill may have an even greater impact on people other than journalists, especially those of immigrant origin living in neighborhoods where relationships with the police have long been tense. Images posted online have been key to denouncing cases of officers’ misconduct and racism in recent years, they argue.

Assbague expressed fears that, under the proposed law, those who post videos of police abuses online may be put on trial, where they would face up to a year in jail and a 45,000-euro ($53,000) fine.

The proposed law is partly a response to demands from police unions, who say it will provide greater protection for officers.

In an effort to quell criticism, lawmakers from Macron’s party announced Monday they would rewrite the criticized article of the bill, which will be debated by the Senate early next year.

Activists consider the draft law just the latest of several security measures to extend police powers at the expense of civil liberties. A statement signed by over 30 groups of families and friends of victims of police abuses said since 2005, “all security laws adopted have constantly expanded the legal field allowing police impunity.”

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